Months after the grand reopening, empty shelves highlight Cesar Chavez library.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
The Cesar Chavez Library is packed with resources: laptops, a homework room, even afternoon Zumba classes. But one key element seems to be missing.
“The library is new, and you can see we have plenty of stuff,” says Analilia Chavez, who regularly brings her 5-year-old son to the community hub. “But what happened to the books?”
Some bookcases at the lively East Salinas library are conspicuously bare. Of the 24 or so shelves in one part of the children’s section, most were empty on a recent Thursday afternoon. Many of the small, stiff books with titles like Is Your Mama A Llama? were lumped in one corner of the low bookcase, leaving little to choose from elsewhere.
The library reopened at the beginning of the year, following a year-long, $3 million renovation. The demand for books – especially children’s books – skyrocketed, Librarian Don Gardner says.
“People were so happy with the books we had, they took most of them home with them,” he says.
In the first month of 2013, 30,000 books were checked out, according to Library Director Elizabeth Martinez. Now the library faces a shortage.
It’s another chapter in the story of a library system with a checkered past. In 2005 the city passed the Measure V tax, partly to avoid a total shutdown of its three libraries. Now, once again, the library is caught in a debate over funding.
Last fiscal year there was an $890,000 surplus from Measure V, which funds the libraries, as well as other public services. It’s the first time there’s been a surplus, so recipients were invited to make one-time funds requests, says Al Espindola, chair of the tax’s oversight committee.
The library requested $50,000 to purchase new books for the Chavez library, but when the Measure V committee met in January it decided it could afford to give the library more, and recommended $95,000, Espindola says. The committee also made recommendations for other Measure V-funded departments, based on each department’s requests.
But at a meeting Feb. 26, the City Council decided not to approve the Measure V committee’s spending recommendations and instead passed the decision off to the city’s finance committee – an unprecedented move, according to Espindola.
Historically, the council has either approved the appropriations or made changes itself, he says.
Because the decision now rests with the finance committee, Espindola worries East Salinas will not be represented. None of the finance committee members – Councilwomen Jyl Lutes and Kimbley Craig and Mayor Joe Gunter – represent East Salinas.
“There are a lot of must-haves and a lot of like-to-haves on this list,” Craig says.
One issue: a looming deficit. It might be wise to save the surplus rather than spend it right away, Craig says. The committee recommended more money for the libraries, but other departments got less for vital projects, she adds.
The final decision won’t rest on the finance committee alone. The City Council will have to approve the committee’s plans in a meeting that could take place by the end of the month.
Meanwhile, shelves remain empty at the Chavez library. And even if it does get an extra chunk of change from the council this year, Gardner, the librarian, doesn’t know if it will be enough.
“I don’t see the demands for the books lessening, and I don’t see the popularity of library use slowing down,” he says. “If anything, it’s only going to continue to grow.”